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After more than 600 years, first woman appointed ‘Black Rod’ in Britain’s Houses of Parliament

Tasked with banging on the House of Commons door to summon MPs to the Queen’s Speech, Black Rod plays a key role in the opening of British parliament following an election.

world Updated: Nov 17, 2017 20:31 IST
Reuters, London
Black Rod,Palace of Westminister,British Parliament
The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, walks through the Norman Porch of the House of Commons at the Palace of Westminster, prior to the arrival of Queen Elizabeth, for the State Opening of Parliament, in London in May 2015.(Reuters)

Britain’s upper parliamentary chamber, the House of Lords, has appointed a woman to the role of ‘Black Rod’ for the first time in the office’s 650-year history.

Sarah Clarke, currently responsible for the organisation of the annual Wimbledon tennis championships, will be known as The Lady Usher of the Black Rod.

In charge of the major ceremonial events in the Palace of Westminster, Black Rod is best known for having the door to the House of Commons slammed in the official’s face at the State Opening of Parliament to symbolise the independence of the lower House.

Black Rod traditionally reacts to the historic insult by banging three times on the door with his symbol of office, an ebony staff topped with a golden lion. The door is then opened and all Members of Parliament follow Black Rod back to the Lords Chamber to hear the Queen’s Speech.

The earliest known reference to the role is in letters patent from 1361 which refer to one Walter Whitehorse performing the role. There are thought to have been 60 holders of the position since then, while there are also Black Rods in the parliaments and legislative assemblies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In a statement, Clarke, who will start early next year, said she was honoured to be invited to take up the role.

“The House of Lords is a place where the smallest detail is as important as the big picture and the depth of heritage and tradition is second to none,” she said.

Clarke’s staff will include the Lords’ doorkeepers and the Yeoman Usher, who is in charge of carrying the mace used to bang on the House of Commons door

Lord Fowler, Speaker of the House of Lords said it was a historic moment for the House.

“People are most familiar with Black Rod for the part they play at State Opening, but the job is much more than that,” he said.

First Published: Nov 17, 2017 20:31 IST